Breaking Travel News interview: Lindsey Ueberroth, chief executive, Preferred Hotels & Resorts
Since joining the company in 2004, Lindsey Ueberroth has worked to solidify Preferred Hotels & Resorts’ position as an internationally recognised hospitality brand, a champion for independent hoteliers, and a trusted resource for travellers seeking independent luxury hotel experiences worldwide.
In 2015, she spearheaded company’s rebranding from Preferred Hotel Group to Preferred Hotels & Resorts, which represented a company-wide transition from a multi-branded, business to business model to one master brand with a consumer focus.
Here, she speaks to Breaking Travel News about the company’s legacy and expansion.
Breaking Travel News: Preferred Hotels & Resorts is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary – how does the heritage of the organisation contribute to its future success?
Lindsey Ueberroth: This year represents an incredibly exciting milestone for the company.
Celebrating the anniversary throughout the year provides us with a platform from which to showcase our long-held commitment to independent hotels and the multitude of unique experiences they offer.
Fifty years spent developing our craft, helping to shape and develop the independent space through our global network and innovative programming gives us an edge over the competition - particularly the large chains that have launched independent-styled brands in recent years as a response to the growing demand.
We have a significant head start, it is not a fad for us, and while the marketplace is more challenging, we are able to leverage our expertise.
As such, we see an opportunity to build on our legacy, leveraging the shift in consumer trends towards independent, authentic luxury lodging.
BTN: How are you celebrating the anniversary?
LU: In January, we unveiled a year-long Golden Anniversary campaign that actively involves our member hotels, travel partners and loyal guests through a series of international brand events, on-property festivities, consumer offers, and social media initiatives.
The campaign kicked off in January with a month-long 50,000 bonus points promotion for members of our loyalty programme I Prefer Hotel Rewards that booked a minimum two-night stay via PreferredHotels.com.
This was followed by the launch of our Golden Anniversary package, which extends a USD$50 credit towards on-property amenities and services, or a 50-minute experience for guests booking hotel stays via our website throughout the year.
Experiences include an authentic Mexican cooking class, a couple’s spa treatment and a vintage car tour around Milan to name a few.
Other incentives include direct bookings sweepstakes offering travellers luxury hotel trips around the world and on-property ‘surprise and delight’ gifts for guests that engage with us on social media using the #PreferredCelebrates50 hashtag during their hotel stays.
Furthermore, as part of the #PreferredCelebrates50 social media campaign, we launched a dedicated microsite, which serves as the hub of all related activity throughout the year, showcasing inspiring travel videos, messages from our executive team, and posts from our hotel guests.
We are delighted with the results, and the connections we have made, through all of the consumer facing activity we have engineered throughout this significant year and we look forward to even more exciting developments in the years to come.
BTN: You yourself have been with the company for 14 years. What would you describe as the biggest changes in the hospitality sector over this period?
LU: Over the past 14 years the hospitality sector as a whole and the ways in which consumers book travel has changed dramatically.
Travel has shifted from a seller’s to a buyer’s market with the launch of so many booking and comparison sites as well as the rise of review sites and the explosion of social media.
Millennials have become the travel industry’s most influential customer, having become both critics and ambassadors for brands, and they have played a huge part in this change with their use of mobile devices to both book and share their experiences.
Therefore, first-rate service and unique experiences are more important than ever.
Despite changes in the way people research, book, and consume travel, there is no question that consumers have shown a continuously growing desire for the type of authentic and experiential travel moments that only independent hotels can truly provide.
This appeal is evident by so many of the chains entering our space.
By staying true to our core values as a champion of the independent hotelier, the Preferred brand is stronger and more relevant than ever before.
BTN: During your time at the company, Preferred Hotels & Resorts has more than tripled in global membership and now offers 700 hotels in 85 countries. In 2017, the group generated $1.35 billion in reservations revenue, a 22 per cent increase on 2016. What have been the key drivers of this success?
LU: When my family took ownership, the company was very different in terms of size, scope, services, hotels, and vision.
Our collective passion and vision for the Preferred brand has kept us focused and motivated to implement the changes required of an ever-evolving industry; this commitment to the success the brand as it champions the independent hotelier, has allowed us to grow our portfolio from 250 hotels to more than 700 hotels across 85 countries.
In the past 14 years, we have also launched I Prefer Hotel Rewards - the largest and most compelling loyalty programme for global independent hotels, and expanded into the golf, family, and residential lodging, where we see an increasing number of travellers seeking unique, memorable guest experiences.
BTN: You added 35 new member hotels and resorts across 17 countries in the first quarter of 2018. How do you select the properties that join? Are many applications rejected?
LU: We partner with our member hotels for an equal relationship, and so as part of the vetting process we look for a shared ethos, values and standards to ensure a mutually beneficial partnership.
Due to the unique nature and independent status of our member hotels, the brand does not provide a one-size-fits-all model.
Rather, Preferred Hotels & Resorts is committed solely to championing independent hoteliers and small regional hotel groups that demonstrate an authentic connection to their local surroundings and culture.
We conduct on-site inspections to ensure that prospective member hotels meet our standards of excellence and the carefully curated criteria for each of our collections.
Areas that we inspect include guest rooms and public spaces, level of service, amenities and facilities, food and beverage outlets, and market position.
Based on these findings, we will decide whether the property is a good fit for our brand and, if so, which collection it would fall into.
BTN: In the age of Airbnb, hotel companies are introducing more residential-style lodging options to offer the luxury traveller the best of both worlds. How has Preferred Hotels & Resorts adapted to accommodate this change?
LU: Today’s traveller is looking for more authentic, ‘local’ accommodation experiences than ever before and this has in turn created an entirely new movement, known as the ‘Airbnb effect’, largely driven by Millennials.
We have watched how the luxury hospitality industry has responded and in turn have adapted our offering to provide our loyal guests with a host of private luxury residence options such as villas, bungalows, apartments, and country estates in our Preferred Residences Collection, which we originally founded in 2007.
We believe that we can go one step further and ensure that our residences offer guests the very best features of a luxury hotel stay with the comfort, privacy, and convenience of a residence setting.
This includes fully custom furnishings, bespoke amenities, the quality assurance associated with an exceptional hotel guest and unique VIP perks such as private transportation options via chauffeured car or even helicopter.
Preferred Residences is a primary focus for us in terms of expansion in the upcoming months to meet the continually growing demand from multigenerational families, groups of friends, business travellers and also couples.
We currently have 80 properties in this collection and intend to welcome at least 20 more members world-wide by the end of 2019.
Preferred Hotels & Resorts is the world’s largest independent hotel brand, representing more than 700 distinctive hotels, resorts, residences, and unique hotel groups across 85 countries.
Through its five global collections, Preferred Hotels & Resorts connects discerning travellers to the singular luxury hospitality experience that meets their life and style preferences for each occasion.
Every property within the portfolio maintains the high-quality standards and unparalleled service levels required by the Preferred Hotels & Resorts Integrated Quality Assurance Programme.
The I Prefer Hotel Rewards programme, Preferred Residences, Preferred Pride, and Preferred Golf offer valuable benefits for travellers seeking a unique experience.
Find out more on the official website.